Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Letting go of Autopilot, Diving into the Present

Bear with me a moment will you?

If you've ever read my blog you'll know that writing is therapy.

This blog here? It's my therapy. Just wanted you to keep that in mind. I'm not dishing out advice. I'm not telling you how to live your life. Just taking you on a bit of journey through my life.

I appreciate all the comments and dialogue from the last blog I posted a month ago. You all are awesome.

That starfish analogy I used, you remember - the one I imagined clinging to the rock? Well. . .? That starfish might have gotten ripped off the rock and been tossed around in a torrid of waves a few more times since I wrote last. Not sure that little starfish has found its way back to the safety of the rock yet. But I'm imagining it floating on the surface, its head above water at least.

I admit, when going through a torrid of pain and emotions; when dealing with hard realities, my body and mind goes on 'autopilot.' I function as though a normal human being. I do all the things I need to do. I smile when I need to smile. I teach when I need to teach. I eat. I play. I sing. I do all of these things, yet - it's all done on autopilot. I barely even remember doing any of these things recently, but I know I've done them.

I have pictures to prove it, even. See?

Mmmm. . . Pumpkin Spice Frozen Yogurt

Digging for sand crabs at the beach

Playing with trains at Grandma and Grandpa's

I have happy girls.

I have happy students.

Somehow, even though I feel like I've been running at 5 mph, and doing nothing - my mind and body are able to do the things I'm used to doing. The things I need to do.

But I don't want the fog of the 'autopilot' zone to become something I get so used to, it becomes permanent. Therefore, I'm calling myself out.

No more running on autopilot!

I am shaking it all off. I have found myself worrying too much about the past, agonizing over the future. But, in reality, there is no past to worry about. No future to fret over. I am forcing myself to live in the present - whatever present that may be: good or bad, happy or sad. There is nothing except for the present.

One of the bloggers I read frequently - Single Dad Laughing - wrote an article the other day entitled "Why Eternity is such a Dangerous Thought" that really resonated with me despite the title. Don't get uptight about the title - read the article before judging, m'kay? I believe in forever and eternity. I believe in thinking about the future, and not simply living in the moment, but worrying about something that hasn't happened yet can become very troublesome.

I really like this specifically that Dan said: "It is always the now that leads to forever. Always. It is always the actions of today that lead to happiness today. And it is always happiness today that makes happiness tomorrow a much more real possibility."

Remember that old adage, "don't borrow trouble from tomorrow?" *Raises hand* Totally guilty of borrowing trouble from tomorrow. But, no more! What is the point? Nothing good comes from it, that's for sure. I seemed to have forgotten that the happiness of today makes for more happiness tomorrow. Why is it that can be so easy to lose sight of?

Even the bible says in Matthew 6:24,  "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." 

Each day comes with joys, trials, trouble, frustration, and above all - it comes with love. We are called to live in that love. So, I will live in that love and make a conscious decision on a daily basis to let go of the trials, trouble, and frustration that I can't control, and do a better job at what I can control: living fully in the present and loving my family fully. 


Saturday, September 13, 2014

I Don't Have It All Together All The Time

This is my disclaimer post, because suddenly I feel the need for one. The other day, as I flipped through pictures and posts I've put up on social media to see what someone who wasn't close to me would see, I realized that if I was an outsider looking into my life they would see something that's not altogether true. Social media is not authentic. I mean, we all know that, don't we? We post the good, weed out the bad.

Its human nature. It's okay to not want to dwell on the negative, to not want to flaunt your problems, or air your dirty laundry for everyone to see. We don't do that in 'real life' very much, either. Do we? We keep our struggles to ourselves except for those in our innermost circles.

But I feel the need for some honesty here. I feel the need for some open dialogue.

I don't always have my act together. I don't always do the right thing, or say the right words, or act the right way.

Come to think of it, what is 'the right way?'

I don't always know.

I know I need to be authentic to myself.

Mostly I am happy. Mostly I am good. Mostly I have focus, and a purpose. Mostly I am strong, and I'm there for my family, and my friends, and my students.

But sometimes? I lose it.


I mess up. I flounder. I ask deep questions. I look into my soul and take a hard look at exactly who I am.

But that's good.  The hard looks. The evaluations and re-evalutations of self.

The falling.

A good friend once told me that we are all a mix of good and bad. This is resonated with me something fierce. We are this mix of something good and something not, all of us. Sometimes I strive too hard for perfection. I look at the surface lives of all my friends that they have put up on social media, and I see perfection there. That's what we're all trained to do - to put on a show of this good, great life that we desire to live.

Most of the time I think I have to always be everything for everyone, and in that place of trying to be too much for too many people - I have lost myself. Found myself empty. Unsure of who I am, or what I am even doing in this precious life.  But I need to remember, we aren't all good. None of us.  And the things that mess us up, that cause us to flounder - the so-called 'bad'? That doesn't define us either, or make us who we are.

Sometimes I snap at my precious girls when I'm upset. I don't always give them 100% of my attention when I am distracted by work, or when life's troubles seem to overwhelm me. I don't always have a clean house. I eat foods I know won't make me feel good afterwards. I sometimes say things I don't mean. Sometimes, I hurt people I love. Sometimes, I just don't have it all together.

But I work hard. I love hard. I am passionate about what I do, and those I love. I am a fierce protector. I live loud, and dream big. Sometimes that intimidates other people. I never mean it to. I am who I am without apology. I find joy in the little things in life. I apologize. I ask for forgiveness. I try to do better, even if I don't always get to where I want to be - I try.

I am a person striving for greatness. I am a person striving for happiness. I am a person striving to make the the people and places around me a better place. To serve and love. Sometimes I fall short. But the falling short isn't what defines me, and it doesn't define you, either.

If in my falling I have found myself, can I even call it 'a falling?'

Friends, I don't have it all together all the time. I don't have all the answers.

I don't even want to pretend like I do.

But I know where to go to find the answers. I know I don't have to rely on myself for everything. I know that sometimes I just have to let go of what I don't have control over and enjoy each and every moment I can that has been given to me. But how can I find that happiness if I'm not anchored into something greater than myself?

Here I am, standing at the edge of the ocean's waves that crash upon my shores, threatening to take everything I am.

I have allowed myself to feel like that piece of seaweed being pulled in and out helplessly with the unrelenting power of the waves; thrashed around with nothing to hold onto, no control, and no purchase to lock onto.

Except, I'm not a helpless piece of seaweed, no matter what I've allowed myself to feel.

I've then tried to imagine myself being a rock, and letting the waves crash harmlessly over me.

I picture myself letting the storms of life thrashing upon me, and doing nothing to move me. I tell myself, "I am strong. I am fierce."

Except, I'm not a rock.

I don't have that kind of strength on my own. I've tried, but I just don't. I flounder when I think I have to do it all myself. I feel alone, vulnerable. Helpless. I think sometimes I have to be perfect to allow the rock to protect me, so I allow myself to become the seaweed, but that's just not true. It's because we're not perfect that we need the rock to do the rest for us.

So, instead, I will picture myself as the fierce little starfish clinging desperately to the rock. Bravely allowing it to take the brunt of the waves, clinging to it for strength and protection.

Because I don't have it all together all the time, I just don't have that kind of strength.

I'm not meant to. None of us are.

P.S. I've also recently begun seeing a therapist. Therapists are great. If you're really dealing with a lot of heavy stuff, and feel overwhelmed, I highly recommend one. They are worth their weight in gold. Don't hold back. Go! 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Loving Long Distance

For the past two years, my sister and I have had the misfortune of living more than 400 miles apart (404.2 to be exact).  It is the furthest we've lived apart since I was 15 and we finally had become best friends, rather than practically being sworn enemies who poured hot coffee on each other, threw D-sized batteries at the other's face, or tried murdering each other in various other diabolical ways . . . you know, normal sister stuff. Right?

I'm so glad things changed. I'm not sure that either one of us would have made it to adulthood otherwise.

Because of the sadness at our distance, a few weeks ago (Or a month? Time is all blurring together) I sent my sister a couple of completely adorable videos of Annabelle and Eleanor saying "hi" to their Auntie Heather, and telling her how much they love her.

After I sent the videos to Heather, I messaged her and told her that they'd love to have a video back from her, and maybe even Ayla if she'd be willing (She wasn't. She's thirteen. What did I expect? Can't say I blame her.) And wouldn't it be cool if Heather could read a book and send the video back to the girls? I'd heard of people doing things like that, and I've always wanted to do it, but never had. But, no time like the present, right?

Of course Heather replied with her own completely adorable video asking the girls to choose which book they wanted her to read to them.

They then video'd themselves telling her what book they chose.

She replied with a video reading the book they chose.

They about died with happiness. Then they chose another book.

She replied with another video reading the next book they chose.

Again, they about died with happiness.

What I love about video messages, as opposed to simply FaceTime or Skype, is that we have the video messages to go back to and re-watch when missing each other gets particularly hard. The girls love can going back to them when wanted or needed. The added bonus is, she's reading to them. So, not only are they 'watching a video' but they're also 'reading a book.' I like to sneak in learning when they don't think they're leaning.

Of course, life interrupted our video messages flow - vacations, work, school beginning, you know - but the video's are still there.

Distance doesn't mean that we can't spend quality time with the people we love. The long distance between us just means we need to put a little more thought and effort into staying connected, and of course relying on technology to bring us in the same room again.

Here is a little video of the first couple video's we sent back and forth.

Love you, sis. More than tongue can tell. 

How else do you keep up with loving family long distance? Maybe your ideas can spark something else fun we can do. 


P.S. Heather - we need to do more these video's. Girls keep begging for it. Some more may be on your way today.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

School Year Beginnings

We've been in school for two weeks now, or nine days. 171 more school days until summer. . . but whose counting?

Eleanor is in first grade. First grade! Did you hear me? First. Grade. My mind is continually blown by this fact. Even more so because I am her first grade teacher. Me. Her teacher. It is something I'd dreamed of long ago, but had lost hope of happening. Now that it is finally a reality. . . ? It is great. I am loving it. She is loving it.

Okay, well. . .

Mostly loving it. Besides wanting to be my constant helper, and sit on my lap when we're doing our circle time, I have to deal with the fact that she does react to me differently than she does to other adults. She has less patience with me when I try to explain something. If she has something stuck in her head, oftentimes no matter what I say will change her mind. If she is confused about something, and already frustrated when I find her, sometimes there is nothing I can do to explain how she can solve the problem. She only gets more frustrated, and says "I just can't do it! It's too hard!"

She promised me that she'd be different at school than she is at home with me. I told her I'd hold her to that promise. Mostly she is different for me at school than at home, but the attitude she tries to give me at home slipped out for the first time yesterday. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, but I did have to separate her from the class, and there were lots of tears.

Then she told me she wanted to be back in Kindergarten again, because first grade was so much harder. I didn't allow myself to take it personally (too much). I know there will be more struggles throughout the year. . .like the fact that she honestly knows where everything is, and knows I work, and what I need, so - even though I have picked other students out to do jobs and be helpers in the classroom that rotate, Eleanor ends up also helping out with other things I hadn't put on my list of classroom jobs, like "find where Mrs. Craig left her keys, or phone, or TV remote, or water bottle. . .remind her not to cross her legs, or . . . "

But overall, we have both been loving our time together. And most importantly, I have been loving being with all the littles, all their excitement over learning, and all their excitement for just being in school. I love their positive energy I am surrounded with during the day. It is exactly what I needed in my life, especially when so much of the rest of my life has been filled with such negative energy. The negative attitude of the middle schoolers I taught for the last few years had a way of leaving 'my bucket' completely empty by the end of the day (of course not all the of the middle schoolers had negative attitudes, especially not Angie, of course - Angie never had a bad attitude. Hi, Angie - hope you're having a good weekend so far.).  I'd been teaching middle school for 7 years (3 years full-time, 4 years substitute teaching). It is not that I don't love the middle school kids, or love that age, or love the content of what I was teaching them - but I searched deep inside of me, and realized that I needed to make the change for me, so I could find the balance in my life that I'd been needing.

I've found that balance that I needed.

Now, I leave school with "my bucket" filled to the brim, rather than already empty. So by the time I get home, and am faced with one challenge or another, I am not already drained and have a hard time dealing with the issues I need to immediately. I come home with my bucket so full, I have reserves to draw from.

What I'm really saying is, "I've found my niche in teaching," and that's a good thing. A very good thing.

Teaching in action

End of first day happy/tired selfie 

Two days after Eleanor and I began school together, Annabelle began preschool for the very first time. We enrolled her in the LAUP preschool program (LA Universal Preschool), which happens to be free (with parents needing to volunteer a certain amount of hours each school year). A friend recommended the program to us, and so far we are very pleased. You know, despite exposing her to 'foot and mouth disease,' which really isn't their fault at all. It could happen anywhere. They have a morning and afternoon session. So, while Brandon teaches PE in the afternoon for a couple of hours at my school - Annabelle gets to be in preschool.

I asked her what her favorite part of preschool was.

"Lunch time, and when they give us popsicles."

What's funny is that we didn't realize they fed the kids lunch since the afternoon session starts at 12:45. Brandon had been feeding her lunch then sending her to preschool. I'm sure she thought she'd just won the lottery when they fed her a second lunch. We hadn't done enough research to know that  their program is centered around providing quality education, physical activity, and nutrition 'that ensures children develop healthy habits into adulthood.'

They apparently fed her fish-sticks yesterday, and she gleefully told me, "I ate fish-sticks, and I LIKED it!" With that 'I've been naughty, but I don't care' gleam in her eye.

The more I read about their program, and the more good things I hear from other people, the more glad I am that we found this program.

Outside the preschool building 

LAUP outside playground 


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Summer of Intentional Living

At the beginning of summer I made a promise to myself. I looked in the mirror (yes, literally. I'm dramatic like that.) and said, "Heidi, this summer you are going to live everyday to the fullest. You are not going to waste a minute. You are going to take charge of your life and not regret a day."

I needed a change. I needed to feel more in control of my life. You see, some days I feel like I'm just on this roller coaster, that I'm just along for the ride. I feel like I can't control one single thing, and that, my friends, is scary.

Over the last two years of being a working-mom, rather than a stay-at-home mom, my health had taken a back-burner. I stopped eating as healthy. I stopped exercising regularly. I stopped taking as much care of me as I put my focus on being the best teacher I could be, and still be the best mom, wife, and granddaughter I could be too.

I lost myself in the caring for everyone else around me. I stopped caring about me.

But what I didn't realize was that I couldn't really, and truly care about everyone else around me unless I had taken care of me first.

It took me a long time to come to that realization. That 'me first' attitude sounds so selfish, and narcissistic (all things I loath). But it is not selfish and narcissistic.

A good friend once told me 'If the airplane is crashing, you have to put on the oxygen mask first before you can help anyone else.'

But it took a long time for those words to really sink in, to fully realize that it's not selfish to put on that oxygen mask. It's necessary. You can't help anyone else if you pass out from lack of oxygen on a crashing plane. You can't help anyone else in life if you don't put on your metaphorical oxygen mask.

This summer, I put on my oxygen mask.

I woke up early every morning, made a healthy breakfast for myself, went to the gym for an hour (or more!), went to my classroom to prepare for teaching in a new classroom, at a new grade level. I spent time playing with my children in the afternoon, and going on fun day trip outings. I watched less TV, and read more books. Most importantly, I wrote just for the sheer pleasure of writing for me.

I embraced all the things that I knew made me happy.

The end result? I am stronger. I am healthier.  I feel like a better mother, a better wife, a better teacher, a better granddaughter. I have more energy. I have more patience.  I am much more present.

As the summer draws rapidly to a close (I've already reported back to work, and students come back next Tuesday), I am not panicked about losing myself again when the school year starts. I will keep getting up early in the morning and going to the gym before work and pushing my body. I will keep going to school and giving it my all to my students. I will keep coming home and giving it my all to my daughters and family. I will keep writing in the evening and giving it my all to my stories.

I will do it all over again, and I will glow because I have taken control of my life, and I am not scared anymore.

I will keep living intentionally, because I learned this summer that my 'oxygen mask' is not selfish, its necessary.

P.S. Hi, Angie! Looking forward to seeing you again Tuesday. :) 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Best of Birthday" Badge

A few weeks ago (yes, I know I am late on this. I claim the "I'm a busy teacher getting ready for back to school" excuse)  I opened up my email and out of the blue received this message from Mariah at Birthday Express:

Hi Heidi,

My name is Mariah Olson, and I am a representative of Birthday Express. My job is to search the internet for outstanding children's birthday blogs that deserve recognition. When I came across your party for your daughter Eleanor's birthday, I knew immediately that there was a great deal of time and effort spent on this celebration! The special details that you included like a beautifully decorated tea sandwiches and the scones and the tea cups/tea pot are beautiful! I really like the cake with the teapot cake topper. Your husband trading idea was genius. Having 4 girls myself, I'm sure the girls enjoyed getting their nails done as well. That was such a cool touch!!

On behalf of Birthday Express, we would like to offer you our "Best Birthday" badge for throwing such a sensational party. Congratulations--you and your little one deserve it! If you are interested, let me know and I'll send it your way. Again, congratulations, and thank you for your time! 

Best Regards,

Mariah Olson

Seeing as how I don't keep up this blog very regularly and only post it for friends to see, I was shocked that anyone 'out there' would ever see any of my posts. I was even more shocked they would think anything I posted was worthy for a 'best of' anything. I am humbled, honored, and motivated to keep throwing the best birthday parties I can for my girls (sorry Brandon, its not going to end anytime soon). Now, what to do for Annabelle's 5th birthday party?? Hmmm. . .

Thank you, Mariah for the recognition of my hard work (and fun). Also, I have to give another huge shout out to my beautiful sister, Heather, and niece, Ayla, for helping put all the decorations together, and keep me sane on the day of the party. Couldn't do it without you guys!

photo BestBirthday_zpsa6c2c38a.png


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Harnessing Creativity In My Children

Someone once asked me, "How do you create creativity in children?"

It seemed an odd question. Children are creative naturally, aren't they? How could one 'create creativity' in children?

But the more I thought about it, and the more I watched my middle school students struggle with creativity not only in their writing, but in their art and over-all creative thinking skills, the more I realized that creativity isn't necessarily something anyone can 'create' in another person, but it most certainly can be fostered.

But more than it 'can be' fostered, it absolutely needs to be harnessed. Our kids are these little sponges that learn so much from us, but their brains are myelinating at the same time. (Check it out: the brain actually prunes off neural connections that aren't being use, therefore have become a waste, and get sloughed off to make other connections already established stronger). What they myelenate depends on what their needs and experiences are.

The experiences we give our children matter.

Our kids need us to help them keep those connections that allow them to be creative, free thinking, outside-the-box, individuals. They look to us to see what's important, and if we're always telling they need to find the right answer, or that there's only ever one answer to something, that creativity gets squashed.

You know when you're reading a book, and the images flashes across your mind like a movie as you read? That is something that doesn't just happen. That is something that is taught. Maybe you don't remember being taught because it happened at such a young age (and that's the best way for it to happen), but that movie playing in your mind doesn't just happen.

I am sure there are so many ways parents (and teachers) can harness this creativity, and my way isn't the only way. In fact, if I did a quick google search I'm sure I can find lists of "ways to harness creativity in children" I could find lists of this. But I didn't do a google search. I'm just writing what is on my heart this morning.

Here's what I do: I tell stories. All the time. But I don't just tell the stories. I ask my girls to tell stories. For instance, last night as we climbed around the creek near our house we heard the call of a peacock nearby. It startled the silence, and we all stopped to listen.

"What is that?" They asked.

"A peacock," I said. "What do you think it's saying?"

They shrugged their shoulders. But I didn't let it go.

"Let's make up a story about it!" And so I did. A silly, but also a little scary story.

Ok, maybe it was really scary. I conjured up images of a man in a cowboy hat and brown leather boots who had a sack of peacocks slung over his shoulder. He was chasing after this next peacock to put in his peacock bag, and that's when we heard the peacock cry out.

More scary than I had planned.

Annabelle cried about not wanting the scary man to come put her in the bag.

So, then I tried again. "Then tell me your story. Close your eyes and make up pictures in your mind. Tell me what you see is happening with the peacock."

And they stood there by the creek, listening for beautiful long moments as the rippling of the water played over the rocks, with their eyes scrunched up tight. Thinking.

"They're having a birthday party!" Eleanor cried at last.

"Yeah, its a really big party, too" Annabelle added excitedly. We could have stayed there by the creek adding details to the story, but the sun was sinking low, and we needing to go.

But they kept adding. One glorious detail after the next. As we walked up the hill back to our house, they told the story of the Great Peacock Birthday Bash.

"Can you write this story down on your computer, Mommy? Can you make it a book?" Eleanor asked a little breathlessly as we ran up to our house.

How can I say no to a question like that?

But it's not just making up silly stories that creates creativity in our children, is it?

It's letting them play with their toys, and showing them the many different ways they can be played with (because sometimes they do need to be shown).  Its throwing them into the backyard and saying "have fun without me." Its giving them room. Its allowing for wrong answers that can really be right answers. Its listening to their stories, admiring their art, and showing them ways to express themselves in whatever safe way they can.

Its . . .

How do you intentionally harness creativity in your children?

P.S. Eleanor told me last night, "I'm thinking when I grow up I want to be a book store owner. Or a book writer. Or a drawer -"

"You want to be an artist?"
"Is that what a drawer is?"
"Ok, and I want to be an artist, and maybe a teacher. Well, I don't know exactly what I'm going to do, but I'm going to have a good job. And I'm going to be happy. And make lots of money."